Every day, our journalism dismantles barriers and shines a light on the critical overlooked and under-reported issues important to all North Carolinians.
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Carolina Public Press
Annual Report 2021
A year of investigation, innovation and inspiration
From the Founder and Executive Director
At the top of my Ta-Da list for 2021 is completing the 10th anniversary year of Carolina Public Press. After several years of research, talking with friends and colleagues and mentors, putting together a business plan and hashing out details, I launched the first wholly independent nonprofit news organization devoted to investigative reporting from my kitchen table in Asheville, N.C. It was March 3, 2011, a beautiful spring day. I was also eight months pregnant with my youngest daughter.
People often ask me what I thought would happen, what I had hoped to achieve. I often say that ignorance is bliss, and that I’m furiously, obstinately optimistic at times. I’m joking, of course, but there’s a kernel or two of truth in there.
I couldn’t have guessed that I would be writing this thank you to you–our readers, members, listeners, partners, collaborators, skeptics, mentors, followers and more–more than a decade later, in the third year of an unprecedented pandemic.
A lot has changed.
I’m no longer by myself at the metaphorical kitchen table. (Though I never was, really. My friends, family, contacts, an amazing advisory board, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina and The Institute for Southern Studies propelled Carolina Public Press into life through funding, donations, organizational help, mentorship, perspective and encouragement.)
At first, Carolina Public Press was an experiment to solve a known community need for nonpartisan investigative and in-depth journalism in Western North Carolina that focused on the public interest. Then, I encountered a ton of quizzical looks, skepticism and more. Oh, the people who told me they couldn’t wait until I “got a real job!”
Now, more than a decade later, there are nonprofit newsrooms popping up across the state. With CPP holding more than 30 community conversation events, experiencing hard points of learning, successes and failures, and publishing thousands of stories (still available for free), I’m happy we could help pave the way.
And, now, our nonprofit organization has a staff of nine full-time and one part-time employees. While still headquartered in Asheville, we work statewide now. Our staff members are across the state, from the mountains to the coast, as are the dozens of freelance and contract journalists who join us on projects and assignments. Plus, we have a growing board of directors who are working to make sure we keep to our mission, reflect the state we serve and grow with sustainability in mind. In 2022, for the first time, we have a benefits package for our employees that includes health insurance.
Our North Star is bright. Our ambitions are beyond what I could have anticipated 10 years ago.
I’ve never worked with a group of people more dedicated to ethical, high-quality journalism. And, most of all, we’ve proven through ten years of grit, innovation and sheer determination, that our news organization fills a void, has true impact, is sustainable and remains founded in and devoted to North Carolina.
Our mission of nonpartisan in-depth and investigative news in the public interest that’s built on the facts and context we need to know is needed more than ever. News that is free and accessible. There’s plenty of politics-driven and corporate paywall-protected news out there. That’s not us.
Thousands of donor members support our work, vision and mission. Local, statewide and national foundations support us, too. Members make up about 30% of our operating budget, depending on the year. That supports CPP in every way, from helping a reporter pay for gas to keeping our website running. Together, we’ve raised several million dollars to support investigative public-interest news in North Carolina. Every single cent has been and still is invested into independent investigative public-service news in this state. There’s no hedge fund, policy or advocacy organization, or national network behind our work.
But there’s more to come – 2022 and more.
We are working daily to be the go-to sustainable independent, in-depth and investigative news arm for North Carolina. We want to be home to the biggest team of nonpartisan investigative reporters in the state who are working for you, no matter where you live in North Carolina.
We’re really close. We know broadband access and news deserts are already a problem in getting the news across the state. In 2022, we’re working on a big research project, with support from the Google News Initiative and Dogwood Health Trust. It will gather data on what news and information people without high-speed broadband access miss and how they do and want to engage with news organizations. This will help our news product development. And there are hundreds of uses for this information in this state and beyond.
In 2022, we’re also putting more investments into local journalism in Western and Eastern North Carolina on government accountability reporting and more. That’s on top of our stellar local and statewide investigative reporting, which we’ll continue to grow.
You are critical to this. You’ve provided news tips, sent in questions, challenged us when we got it wrong. You cheered when our work helped lead to legislative change, the prosecution of misdeeds by public officials and the release of public records and opened courtrooms. You’ve invited us into your homes and offices. You’ve told us heart-wrenching stories about your lives. Those of you who can have given your charitable dollars to help make this happen. Every member is so important, and a gift at any size makes you a member for a year.
I never take this for granted. It’s a great privilege to be a journalist and work in the independent nonprofit investigative news sector. For me, it’s rooted in public service to my state.
I know that Carolina Public Press is firmly headed into our second decade dedicated to North Carolina and nonpartisan investigative and public-service news, on what goes overlooked and under-reported and to the people who can’t easily access trustworthy local news.
Thank you for an incredible first decade. We really couldn’t do it without you, and we can’t wait to see what we can continue to do – together.
From the Managing Editor
Many news issues from COVID-19 to police shootings to redistricting drew coverage throughout 2021 as they emerged and evolved. But much of our work behind the scenes was on major reporting projects. I coordinated closely with our news team, freelancers and other CPP staff to plan, produce and promote these projects to ensure maximum exposure, impact and engagement for high-quality informative journalism. In several cases, we also planned virtual events and outside media appearances to expand the reach of this reporting and engage with both readers and topical experts or stakeholders.
In January we produced “Finding Nurses,” focusing on the lack of information about locations of sexual assault nurse examiners throughout the state. In June we released “Patchwork Protection,” examining the state’s hands-off approach to child welfare that results in wide disparities from county to county. September saw the release of “Changing Tides,” a project on the effect of climate change on coastal fishing, ironically delayed a few weeks because of weather conditions when we tried to take photographs. In October, we published “Raising Jails,” on the process by which North Carolina counties decide to commit resources to expanding or building jails, including potential policy alternatives.
While we’ve done major projects previously, this is the first year in which we’ve had this volume of these large investigative and enterprising projects. The Changing Tides project alone was five parts and also supported bonus content in a special newsletter. For several of these projects, we included substantial data visualizations to help tell the story — not new for us, but a bigger commitment to these graphics than in previous years. Team members often have spent many months researching these issues before a single word appears in print, so each of them represents a phenomenal undertaking and team initiative. To say we are proud of these accomplishments would be an understatement. Regardless, our hope is that our work is meaningful to the people of North Carolina.
We’ve spent time reaching out to new audiences in new ways, growing the number of North Carolinians with access to our investigative and public interest journalism.
Carolina Public Press among 25 organizations nationwide recognized in Google GNI Innovation Challenge: A project that will center on North Carolina’s digital divide
Apple News in 2021
Carolina Public Press launched on Apple News in October 2021.
Our top performing posts (by page views) on Apple News are:
- Democracy on the docket: Major NC elections cases slated for 2022 (Jordan Wilkie)
- NC woman wins $4 million settlement over illegal removal from her family (Kate Martin)
- Black leadership advances new trails project in Pisgah National Forest (Jack Igelman)
Newsbreak in 2021
Carolina Public Press launched on Newsbreak in September 2021.
Laura Lee, News Editor
As it did in the prior year, our work in 2021 focused on pandemic-related issues. Early in the year, we covered the vaccination distribution process, finding inequities in the rollout and holding government officials accountable for their role. I continue to provide “news you can use” about the state of the pandemic in our weekly Coronavirus newsletter.
In April, national attention turned to a situation in Eastern North Carolina. Jordan Wilkie and I produced breaking news stories on the killing of a Black man, Andrew Brown Jr., by law enforcement officers. We broke the news of the search warrants that led to the incident as well as the Sheriff’s decision that he would permit the family to see some of the body camera footage of the event.
In addition to our news coverage, we made strides with internal processes. With the help of our two interns, Camila Moreno-Lizarazo and Anna Deen, we revised our social media production and implemented new strategies designed to increase readership and engagement. I also organized a series of brown bag sessions for our reporters and freelancers on different reporting and writing topics.
In 2022, we will continue to both improve our workflow structures and keep a close eye on the latest news our readers need.
Kate Martin, Lead Investigative Reporter
I look back at my reporting in 2021 with pride. My work for the series “Finding Nurses,” exposed the dire shortage of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in North Carolina and led to the state Legislature approving funds for nurse training. Our “Patchwork Protection” series shows how North Carolina’s child welfare policies lead to inconsistent results for children and families. It also led to change at the statehouse.
And a story I’ve been following for three years, and continue to follow, led to a felony conviction. I sat in an Asheville courtroom for four days to report on a family torn apart by Cherokee County’s Department of Social Services. The federal jury awarded that father and his daughter $4.6 million.
As news deserts grow, this already rare reporting will become even more so. Thank you to the donors who make this possible. I am proud Carolina Public Press is investing in journalism that makes a difference year after year.
Jordan Wilkie, Investigative Reporter
Carolina Public Press gives me wide latitude to improve as a journalist. This year, I became a records hound. For my project “Raising Jails,” I submitted records requests to every county in the state, as well as to several statewide agencies. I also kept the state and county boards of elections busy, along with the prison section of the Department of Public Safety.
The results? CPP offered the public in-depth looks at how counties make $30+ million decisions to build new jails they may not need, how the state keeps North Carolina’s democracy running and how advocacy groups pushed the state to release people from prison to protect them from COVID.
I became more efficient at requesting and organizing records. I learned how to push agencies to release records that were rightfully public but potentially embarrassing. Most of all, I endeavored to use those records to inform North Carolinians about how their state works, which gives the public power to fix the problems in their communities.
Celebrating our 10th Anniversary
With “We’re just getting started!” as a rallying cry, Carolina Public Press this year celebrated 10 years of independent, investigative journalism for all of North Carolina. Launched at 11 a.m. on March 4, 2011— the moment the website went live — CPP became the only independent nonprofit digital media organization that served 17 counties of Western North Carolina that was passionately, obstinately, whole heartedly devoted to investigative reporting and public service journalism.
So, how did we celebrate?
We launched a landing page to showcase all that we accomplished and spoke to what was to come. We produced an anthem video that highlighted our board and executive director talking about what CPP means to them, how it creates a new path to democracy in underserved communities and what the organization’s aspirations are going forward.
We asked our donors to commit to us during this milestone year by becoming a “10 for 10 member, pledging $10 a month to help us have even more impact over the next decade.
10 Years By The Numbers
Number of posts on carolinapublicpress.org
Years in a row we’ve won first place in investigative reporting or general excellence from the N.C. Press Association
Number of years serving western North Carolina only
Number of legal actions filed for public records and open courts
Number of awards from statewide mental health, sexual assault, and environmental organizations and the N.C. Press Association
Number of years serving all of North Carolina
Number of community forums, listening sessions, and dialogues
Total amount of money raised to support investigative and public service journalism in North Carolina
10 for NC Events
Celebrating 10 years of investigative and public interest journalism in North Carolina, Carolina Public Press offered Ten for NC, a series of free, virtual conversations about 10 issues, topics and debates in North Carolina. These FREE, informal, virtual discussions featured members of the Carolina Public Press team and Speakers Bureau and guests in conversation about many important issues facing North Carolina.
Our events by the numbers
people came to at least two events.
new attendees discovered our events
Collaboration is Key
In 2021, Carolina Public Press focused on two major standing collaborations with less attention to the one-off ad hoc collaborations that we’ve sometimes led or been involved with — though the door remains open to working with additional collaborative partners in the future.
A key group of partners continues to be the North Carolina Watchdog Reporting Network, of which CPP was a founding member in 2020. Journalists from CPP, the News & Observer, Charlotte Observer, WRAL, WBTV and WECT recognized the need to leverage their combined geographical reach and topical expertise to tackle a range of challenging issues during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were later joined by WUNC public radio. As the cohort moved into its second year in 2020, key topics for stories included problems with the state’s vaccine rollout, secrecy surrounding in-custody deaths, lack of information about police officers who aren’t allowed to testify in court, vaccine hesitancy among health care workers, and multiple issues with schools handling the resurgence of COVID-19 late in 2021. In most of these investigative projects, CPP news team members took prominent roles in planning, reporting, writing and editing. Late in the year, member organizations recognized a need to address several key areas of concern as the standing collaboration matured, and established committees to review workflow procedures for projects and to examine ways to improve the diversity of audiences and contributors. CPP news team members took leadership roles within each of those committees.
A new endeavor for CPP in 2021 was to unite with the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, which also includes the Charlotte Observer, La Noticia, Q City Metro, Q notes, WCNC, WFAE and non-media partners, Queens University and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library. This group works to co-publish reporting by various member organizations on housing-related issues in the metro-Charlotte region. Topics have included high levels of evictions from Charlotte ZIP codes and the problem of tenants who face eviction because they miss a court date. CPP’s involvement with this group is at an early stage and can be expected to develop further throughout 2022.
In addition to these journalistic collaborations, CPP has also been involved in multiple news media legal coalitions to pursue important records that are being withheld by governments at various levels. An important example in 2021 was the coalition to seek Pasquotank Deputy video footage from the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City. In that case, the effort to obtain records continues. In other cases, such as the 2020 legal coalition that persuaded the state to release information on COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes, the impact can be quick and meaningful. One more local success of a legal coalition in 2021 was the successful push to gain access to records from the Buncombe County Board of Education’s retreat. These cases underscore that the push to ensure the public’s access to news about government activities extends from broad national-interest issues, through statewide matters, down to issues of local interest and CPP has been involved at each of these levels. CPP expects to continue exploring opportunities to join with other news organizations in this type of joint legal effort to bring light to the issues that affect the people of North Carolina.
Our Audience Engagement
Social media and website engagement numbers for 2021.
Google Analytics Q4 numbers
2021 Google Analytics total
Who We Are
Ellen Acconcia, Director of Audience and Engagement
Tara George, Administrator
Shelby Harris, Government Reporter, Western North Carolina
Laura Lee, News Editor
Lisa Lopez, Director of Development
Kate Martin, Lead Investigative Reporter
Angie Newsome, Founder and Executive Director
Ben Sessoms, Government Reporter, Eastern North Carolina
Frank Taylor, Managing Editor
Jordan Wilkie, Staff Reporter and Report for America corps member
Calvin L. Adkins, Photographer
Jennifer Bringle, Reporter
Taylor Buck, Data Visualization
Mark Darrough, Reporter and Photographer
Melissa Sue Gerrits, Photographer
Jodi Helmer, Reporter
Jack Igelman, Lead Environment Reporter
Colby Rabon, Photographer
Aaron Sánchez-Guerra, Reporter and Translator
Mariano Santillan, Illustrator
Imari Scarbrough, Reporter
2021 Board of Directors
Scott Barnwell, President
Patrick Doran, Vice President
Bob Lewis, Treasurer
Dr. Deitra Williams-Toone
Carolina Public Press is a member of the N.C. Open Government Coalition, the NC Watchdog Reporting Network, Institute for Nonprofit News, Local Independent Online News Publishers and the N.C. Press Association. Certain staff members and contributors are members of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society of Environmental Journalists.
We are Grateful
As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on the generosity of individuals, foundations and businesses to fund our great reporting. A unique mix of philanthropy, corporate sponsorship and earned revenue makes our important work sustainable over time. In 2021, we raised more than $835,000 from around the state and across the nation—a nearly 35% increase over 2020. We’ve achieved this fundraising success without sacrificing a reputation for fairness and transparency. We continue to maintain the highest standards of financial disclosure in the industry, including publishing online lists of every individual, foundation or corporate entity that supports us.
For more information about our financial picture in 2021, visit the following section: